The first disciples experienced considerable opposition at the hands of Jewish leaders. The priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John and tried them before the council (4:1-22). The high priest arrested and flogged the apostles. He would have had them killed, except for Gamaliel, who counseled caution lest they be found to be opposing God (5:17-42).
Then Jewish leaders arrested Stephen and executed him by stoning (6:8 – 7:53). “The witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (7:58) and “Saul was consenting to his death” (8:1a).
Then we have a brief account of Saul “ravaged the assembly, entering into every house, and dragged both men and women off to prison” (8:1b-3).
Then there is a mention of “those who were scattered” (8:4)—Jerusalem Christians who fled to safer places, going “abroad went around preaching the word” (8:4). Philip went to Samaria, where the people listened eagerly to his proclamation of the Messiah (8:5-6). Hearing of that, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria, where they laid hands on the converts so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (8:14-24). Thus we have the beginnings of the spread of the Gospel.
Then Philip, at the direction of an angel, went to the wilderness road that connected Jerusalem and Gaza, where he met and converted an Ethiopian eunuch—the first conversion of a Gentile (8:26-40).
Then we have the story of Paul’s conversion (chapter 9—our text), followed by the story of Peter’s vision, which resulted in his opening the doors of the church to the Gentiles (chapter 10).
The most prominent apostle throughout the first twelve chapters of the book of Acts is Peter. However, beginning with chapter 13, Saul becomes dominant. We hear of Peter only once more in this book, when Peter defends the ministry of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles (15:7-11).
At 13:9, Luke notes that Saul (his Jewish name) is also known as Paul (his Roman name), and without further explanation Luke thereafter uses the name Paul instead of Saul—the exceptions being occasions where Paul tells of Jesus calling “Saul, Saul” on the Damascus road (22:7, 13; 26:14).
The lectionary makes verses 7-20 an optional part of this lection, giving the preacher the option of a shorter reading, verses 1-6. The shorter reading is not appropriate if the preacher chooses to base his/her sermon on this Acts text. Verses 1-6 tell only the beginning of the story of Saul’s conversion and leave us hanging. Verses 7-19a tell the rest of the story of his conversion, and verses 19b-20 tell briefly of his preparation for ministry (v. 19a) and the beginning of his preaching (v. 20). The preacher who chooses to base his/her sermon on this Acts reading is strongly advised to use the full reading.
ACTS 9:1-2. SAUL, STILL BREATHING THREATS AND SLAUGHTER
1But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way (Greek: hodou), whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
“But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (v. 1a). Saul is “still breathing threats and murder.” Earlier, he was present at the stoning of Stephen (7:58) and “ravaged the assembly” by entering Christian homes and imprisoning Christians (8:3).
Saul is “breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples” because he believes them to be enemies of God. He is determined to root out false teaching and to imprison false teachers. There is much in the Hebrew Scriptures to justify killing those who would lead people astray. Saul is just being zealous to defend God’s interests.
“went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus” (vv. 1b-2a). The high priest’s authority does not extend to Damascus, which is located in Syria, about 60 miles (95 km) northeast of the Sea of Galilee or 140 miles (225 km) from Jerusalem—a journey that would take a week on foot.
However, Saul asks for letters to synagogues rather than civil authorities. Even though the high priest’s legal authority does not extend to Damascus, his moral authority would hold considerable sway with the large Jewish population in Damascus. Saul needs their help to root out Christians who have fled Jerusalem.
“that if he found any who were of the Way (hodou), whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem“ (v. 2b). Hodos is the word for road or path. Early Christians adopted “the Way” as the name for their movement, because Jesus spoke of being “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)—meaning that he was the path to God and salvation.
Saul is not asking for authority to execute Jesus’ followers. He wants only to arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem where they can be properly tried.
Did the high priest have power of extradition outside his usual jurisdiction? Scholars disagree. Bruce says yes (Bruce, 180-181; see also Chance, 146), but Walasky says unlikely (Walasky, 91; see also Williams, 167). However, as noted above, Saul is asking for letters to synagogues rather than civil authorities. He is asking, not for authority to extradite, but for assistance in rounding up Christians. Apparently he anticipates that civil authorities will not stand in his way when he is ready to transport his prisoners to Jerusalem for trial.
ACTS 9:3-6. SUDDENLY A LIGHT FROM THE SKY SHONE AROUND HIM
3As he traveled, it happened that he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. 4He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He said, “Who are you, Lord?” (Greek: kyrie) The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must (Greek: dei) do.”
“As he traveled, it happened that he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him” (v. 3). In recounting this story later, Paul will say that this incident took place at midday (22:6; 26:13)—the time of day when the sun is most intense. This light from heaven would have to be bright to be noticed so dramatically in the presence of the noonday sun. Paul will describe it as “brighter than the sun” (26:13).
Light is a recurring motif throughout Luke/Acts. Luke presents the Gospel as shedding light “on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79)—and as “a light for revelation to the nations” (Luke 2:32). When Jesus died, “The sun was darkened” (Luke 23:45). When an angel came to rescue Peter from prison, “a light shone in the cell” (Acts 12:7). Later, Paul will say that God has called him to be “a light for the Gentiles” (Acts 13:47).
“He fell on the earth, and heard a voice” (v. 4a). This account tells us only that Saul heard the voice, but Barnabas will later tell the apostles that Saul “had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him” (v. 27). In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul will include a list of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. He will conclude that list by saying, “and last of all, as to the child born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:8).
Rabbis, conscious that there had been no prophetic voice in Israel for centuries, talked of a “bat qol“—(a daughter of a voice)—an echo of God’s voice that some person might hear on occasion—a means by which God could reveal his will. Bruce sees this verse as a “bat qol” (Bruce, 182).
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (v. 4b). In Hebrew scripture, God often uses a name twice to get the attention of a person whom he is calling for a special role (Genesis 22:11; 46:2; Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:4, 10).
Later, in his report of this incident to Agrippa, Paul will expand Jesus’ wording by adding, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (26:14).
“Who are you, Lord?” (kyrie) (v. 5a). Kyrie can mean “Sir” (a term of respect for another person) or “Lord” (meaning God). The ambiguity is appropriate here. Saul knows that there is only one God, so he would not ask God who he is. On the other hand, Saul knows that this voice from heaven is either God or a messenger of God—certainly not a mere mortal.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (v. 5b). Christ identifies with his disciples so that persecuting disciples is tantamount to persecuting Christ.
Jesus reply hit Saul like a ton of bricks. Saul’s mission in life has been stamping out the sparks of the budding Christian movement lest those sparks light a fire that might get out of control. Now Saul learns that, instead of doing Godly work as he intended, he has been opposing God, as Gamaliel earlier warned might be possible (5:38-39).
“But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must (dei) do” (v. 6). Jesus does not yet empower Saul for mission, but simply orders him to go to Damascus to await orders.
The little word, dei, can be translated “it is necessary.” It appears in the New Testament more than one hundred times, and suggests divine necessity or God’s will.
ACTS 9:7-9. WHEN HIS EYES WERE OPENED, SAUL SAW NO ONE
7The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one. 8Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank.
“The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one” (v. 7). There appears to be a conflict between this verse and Paul’s later report that “Those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they didn’t understand the voice of him who spoke to me” (22:9). However, it seems likely that they heard the sound without understanding the voice—and saw a light without being able to determine its meaning.
“Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one” (v. 8a). Saul “now discovers on a literal level what readers already know to be true about him on a spiritual/metaphorical level: he is blind” (Chance, 147).
“They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus” (v. 8b). In his blindness, Saul is completely helpless. He cannot even walk to town without assistance.
God often comes to us in our weakness. In his epistles, Paul will talk of Christ dying for the ungodly “while we were yet weak” (Romans 5:6)—and “chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27)—and “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10)—and “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
“He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank” (v. 9). We don’t know the meaning of Saul’s fasting. Perhaps he is fasting in repentance for having persecuted the Messiah. Perhaps he is simply in shock at the sudden turn in his life. Perhaps he embraces fasting as a spiritual discipline to make himself vulnerable and open to the Lord’s working in his life.
ACTS 9:10-12. NOW THERE WAS A DISCIPLE NAMED ANANIAS
10Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” He said, “Behold, it’s me, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judah for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, 12and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.”
“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias” (v. 10a). This is not the earlier Ananias who died after trying to deceive the church (5:1-5) or the high priest, Ananias (23:2; 24:1). Paul will later identify this Ananias as “a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus” (22:12), but we know nothing more of him. The Lord brings him onstage long enough to perform a simple but important task, and then he disappears.
That should encourage those of us who live ordinary lives and enjoy only ordinary accomplishments. God often uses ordinary people in significant ways—sometimes, as here, only once in a lifetime. But we can be assured that God will use each of us in some important way, even if we happen not to know it at the time. And we can be assured that there will be something of eternity at stake in the moment that God chooses to use us.
“The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’Behold, it’s me, Lord’” (v. 10b). This is a typical call and response sequence in Hebrew scripture (Genesis 22:1; 1 Samuel 3:6, 8; Isaiah 6:8).
“The Lord said to him, ‘Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight’“ (v. 11a). There is, in modern Damascus, a street called Straight that might be the same street referenced in this verse. It begins at the East Gate and moves west from there.
“in the house of Judah” (v. 11b). We know nothing more of this Judah (sometimes translated Judas), but note the specificity of the directions that the Lord gives to Ananias.
“and inquire in the house of Judah for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus” (v. 11c). Tarsus is located on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey about 12 miles (19 km) from the Mediterranean—but it is a port city by virtue of its location on the Cydnus River. In Paul’s time it was not only an important commercial center, but was also known as a center of intellectual activity—in particular the study of Stoic philosophy.
Tarsus is mentioned only five times in Acts (9:11, 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3) and nowhere else in scripture. Paul mentions being from Tarsus on two occasions (21:39; 22:3), but never mentions Tarsus in his epistles. He does mention a visit to Cilicia (Galatians 1:21) which is the province where Tarsus is the capital city.
“For behold, he is praying” (v. 11d). We learned in verse 9 that Saul was fasting. Now we learn that he is praying. Fasting and prayer are complementary spiritual disciplines.
“and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in” (v. 12a). Keep in mind that the Lord is speaking to Ananias in a vision (v. 10)—and is reporting that Saul has also seen a vision. The Lord is preparing both of these men for the meeting that he has in mind for them.
“and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight” (v. 12b). In the Old Testament, Moses laid hands on Joshua to commission him (Numbers 27:18-23). In the New Testament, the apostles laid hands on people to heal them (Matthew 9:18; Acts 28:8), to impart the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6), and to ordain them for a particular work (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 2 Timothy 1:6).
This is an example of laying on hands to heal—“so that (Saul) may receive his sight.” But Ananias will tell Saul that the laying on of hands is “so that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). This laying on of hands is unusual in that Ananias is not an apostle and has no other credentials other than his devout life and good reputation (22:12). However, the Lord chooses to call him to lay hands on Saul, and the Lord’s call is all the credential Ananias needs.
ACTS 9:13-16. GO, FOR HE IS MY CHOSEN VESSEL
13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. 14Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel (Greek: skeuos) to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem” (v. 13). As noted above, Luke has told us of Saul having “ravaged the assembly” (8:3) and “breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples (9:1). He doesn’t tell us how Ananias knows Saul’s reputation, but Christians seeking refuge in Damascus have surely told local Christians about the ongoing persecution in Jerusalem and Saul’s role in it. Ananias protests strongly, because he knows Saul as an enemy.
It is not unusual for people to protest a call from the Lord. Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) and “O Lord, I am not eloquent, …for I am slow of speech, and slow of a tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Gideon asked, “O Lord, how shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). Isaiah said, “Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies” (Isaiah 6:5). Jeremiah said, “Ah,Lord Yahweh! Behold, I don’t know how to speak; for I am a child” (Jeremiah 1:6).
“‘Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name’” (v. 14). Ananias not only knows of the things that Saul has done in Jerusalem, but is also aware of Saul’s intentions for disciples found in Damascus.
“Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel” (skeuos) (v. 15a). Paul uses this word skeuos when speaking of the Gospel as a “treasure in clay jars” (skeuesin)—so skeuos can serve as a metaphor for pottery which has been shaped by the potter for a purpose. Here the Lord is telling Ananias that he has chosen and shaped Saul for an important purpose—proclaiming the Gospel to Gentiles (Williams, 171).
“my chosen vessel to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel” (v. 15b). Saul intended to “bind all who call on your (Jesus’) name” (v. 14), but now Jesus will use Saul to proclaim his name to Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel.
Paul (his Roman name) will become famous as the apostle to the Gentiles, but Acts also tells us about his appearance before Governors Felix and Festus (chapters 23-25) and King Agrippa (26:1-29)—and his preaching in the synagogues, where he would have been speaking to “the children of Israel” (13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4, 19; 19:8).
“For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (v. 16). He who intended to persecute those who invoke Jesus’ name will now suffer for Jesus’ name (v. 16). For a litany of Paul’s subsequent sufferings, see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.
ACTS 9:17-19a. BROTHER SAUL, THE LORD SENT ME
17Ananias departed, and entered into the house. Laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptized. 19aHe took food and was strengthened.
“Ananias departed, and entered into the house. Laying his hands on him, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit’” (v. 17). Ananias’ greeting, “Brother Saul,” is remarkable given the opinion he so recently expressed about Saul (vv. 13-14).
Later, Paul, recounting this experience, will report that Ananias said, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth. For you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you wait? Arise, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (22:14-16).
Ananias says that he is here, in part, so that Saul will “be filled with the Holy Spirit,” but the following verses do not record him receiving the Holy Spirit. They do, however, record that he was baptized (v. 18), so he apparently received the Holy Spirit as part of his baptism (as we all do).
“Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptized” (v. 18). The healing is effected and Saul is baptized, presumably at the hands of Ananias. Thereafter, we hear nothing further of Ananias. His job is done, and Saul’s job about to begin.
“He took food and was strengthened” (v. 19a). Saul has not eaten for three days (v. 9), so he breaks his fast to regain strength for the work that lies ahead.
ACTS 9:19b-20. IMMEDIATELY SAUL PROCLAIMED THE CHRIST
19bSaul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus. 20Immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God.
“Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus” (v. 19b). Apparently, Ananias told the Damascus disciples about his experience with Saul. At any rate, they seem to accept him as a brother, as Ananias did earlier (v. 17). Presumably, these disciples include some of the Jerusalem disciples who fled Saul’s earlier persecution.
Polhill offers the interesting suggestion that these Christians may have been instructing Saul in the faith during this time (Polhill, 238). That seems like a distinct possibility. Saul begins his preaching in the very next verse, and has a lot to learn.
“Immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God” (v. 20). Saul will become the great missionary to the Gentiles, but he begins his ministry in the synagogues. In his Epistle to the Romans, he will speak of the Gospel as “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). He will continue preaching in synagogues throughout the book of Acts (13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4, 19; 19:8).
Luke introduced us to this title, Son of God, in the annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:35; see also Luke 3:38; 4:3, 9, 41; 22:70). At Jesus’ baptism, a voice from heaven announced, “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). However, this is the only instance in the book of Acts where the title “Son of God” is mentioned.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bock, Darrell L., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)
Bruce, F. F., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts(Revised)(Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988)
Campbell, Charles L., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Chance, J. Bradley, The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Acts (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2007)
Faw, Chalmer E., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Acts, (Scottdale, Pennsyvania: Herald Press, 1993)
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: The Acts of the Apostles (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Polhill, John B., New American Commentary: Acts, Vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Wall, Robert W., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Walaskay, Paul W., Westminster Bible Companion: Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Williams, David J., New International Biblical Commentary: Acts (Paternoster Press, 1995)
Willimon, William H., Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Acts (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan
In the great outline which our Lord Jesus gave of the progress of the gospel throughout the course of this age, he said it would move in three stages: First to Jerusalem, then to Judea and all Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. Now, in Acts 9, we are viewing that second stage wherein the gospel is going out to Judea and all Samaria. During that period of time the gospel was being systematically preached throughout every village of Samaria and Judea by outstanding leaders such as Philip and other Christians, and certain of the apostles, as Peter and John. But the Lord was also doing something else. He was preparing the instrument by which the gospel would move into the third stage, the stage in which we today are still involved, that of going to the uttermost parts of the earth. Thus, in Chapter 9, we come to the conversion of the Apostle Paul.
Young Saul of Tarsus, the enemy, the persecutor, the relentless pursuer of Christians, is now to be arrested by Jesus Christ, and conscripted to bear the gospel unto the uttermost parts of the earth. There is a well-known poem by Francis S. Thompson, called The Hound of Heaven, which traces this ability of Jesus to pursue a man like a relentless hound, following every step. No story has more beautifully manifested that relentless pursuit than the story of Saul of Tarsus. Many of us have experienced something of this as well. It is characteristic of God that he pursues a man or woman until he finds him or her, and converts him to his own purpose. Here in the opening words of this chapter we find a man pursued.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2 RSV)
There are three things of interest to note here: First, Saul was breathing threats and murder. In the King James Version it says he was "breathing out threats and slaughter." The literal Greek says he was "breathing in threats and murder," i.e., this was the very atmosphere which he breathed. He lived in this climate. He was dedicated in terrible bloody zeal to eliminating what he regarded as the cult of the Nazarene. He was breathing in an atmosphere of hate, violence and murder against it. Later on in this same book, in his appearance before King Agrippa, he himself tells the king how he felt at this time.
"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:9-11 RSV)
That is Paul's own description of how he felt at the time. Obviously he is a man prompted by a guilty zeal. He has never forgotten the death of Stephen. It continually bothers him, and disturbs his conscience. To quiet it, he engages in this terrible pursuit of the church.
There is a name given to the Christians here that is most interesting. Later on, in the city of Antioch, they will be called for the first time, Christians. But here they are referred to as "those belonging to the Way." Names like this are invariably given by opponents, by enemies. A group may form and call themselves by a certain name, but the name that sticks is usually the one that others call them. Here these early Christians were called "those belonging to the Way." That indicated what others saw in these early Christians. They saw that they were different; they had a different way of life. To use the phrase that is rampant today yet is very descriptive of this word, they had a lifestyle about them that was different. They were people who operated on a different basis. That was what impressed the world.
These Christians were characterized, not by self-centeredness, not by self-aggrandizement, not by the philosophy of "me first, and the devil take the hindmost" as the world is, but they were characterized by love and acceptance and understanding and tolerance. Many have heard the remark quoted frequently about the early Christians, "How these Christians love one another." That is what impressed the world of the first century. They called them, "those belonging to the Way," the way of love. There was something about them that reminded them of Jesus, who was himself "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." So they dubbed them "those belonging to the Way."
The third significant thing in this paragraph is that in the plan of God to reach this man, Saul of Tarsus, to arrest him and change the direction of his life, the Lord Jesus had evidently intended for this to take place on the way to Damascus. It is clear that he maneuvered Paul out of the land of Israel. When he got him outside the borders of the land, he then converted him. The reason for this was because this man was scheduled to be, in the program of God, the mighty Apostle to the Gentiles. The gospel up till this time had gone out only within the bounds of Israel. But it was never God's thought that it should be so limited. Now, in calling the man who is to carry it further, he takes him out of the land to convert him. This is the wonderfully graphic symbolism by which God underlines his truth. On the way to Damascus Paul was arrested, pursued by the relentless hand of Jesus Christ. This verse expresses this beautifully. Part of a larger poem, it says,
There blew a horn in Bethlehem,
Christ sat on Mary's knee.
"And Oh," she said, "my child," she said,
"They blow that horn for thee.
For thou shalt hunt the heart of man,
Thy prey, from hole to hole,
Till at the last thy little hands
Shall close upon his soul."
In the next section of Chapter 9 we have the story of how the hands of Jesus closed upon the soul of Saul of Tarsus:
Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:3-9 RSV)
This story of the conversion of Paul has been subjected to great scrutiny by many scholars and there have been many attempts to explain it on a natural level.
One of the earliest was to suggest that Paul was suffering from epilepsy; that on the road to Damascus he was suddenly seized by an epileptic fit and as he fell to the ground in this seizure he imagined that he heard voices. I remember well the remark of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great English preacher, when that explanation was first told him. He said, "O blessed epilepsy! Would that every man in London could have epilepsy like that!"
There have been others who have suggested that Paul was hit by a stroke of lightning; that, as he neared the city which was located on a plain at the foot of the mountains, an electrical storm broke out and Paul was suddenly struck by lightning. As he fell to the ground in his dazed condition he thought he heard a voice. But remarkable as that theory may be to explain the light brighter than the sun, it leaves unexplained other parts of the story.
Paul is utterly consistent throughout his whole life as to just what he heard and saw on this occasion. He says he saw the Lord Jesus. This was only the first of many occasions on which he saw the Lord. He was an apostle, and he bases his claim to be an apostle upon the fact that he had seen Jesus Christ. He heard his voice, he knew what it said, and what it said had great effect upon him. Therefore this was not a lightning stroke or an epileptic seizure; this is the appearance of Jesus Christ to this man who was to be the mighty Apostle to the Gentiles.
The first words that Jesus speaks to Saul of Tarsus are most significant. In the Garden of Eden, on that fateful day when man first fell, God came into the Garden and addressed a question to man. That question was very significant. It was, "Adam, where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). There is a sense in which that is the question God is still asking men today. If Adam would think through that question he would find himself well on the road back. You cannot know the way back until you know where you are. Thus the first question God asks men who are without Christ today is, "Where are you?" Where are you in life? When you answer that you are on the way back.
But this question asked of Saul of Tarsus is also very significant. The Lord Jesus says to him, "Saul, why are you persecuting me? What is behind it, what are your motives? What are your reasons? What do you hope to accomplish? What is this that is driving you like this? Why are you persecuting me?" I am sure that in the hours of darkness that followed in Damascus, young Saul of Tarsus debated that question many, many times. Why? What was it that had driven him like this? What was it that motivated his life through all those years, that led to such violent activity against the program of God? In the answer to that question he would come a great understanding of himself and of human life.
Notice that the next thing Jesus says to him is also very significant. He says, "Arise and enter the city, and there you will be told what to do." That indicates a tremendous reversal of this man's whole approach to life. He is now experiencing the lifestyle which belongs to a Christian. "You are not your own; you are bought with a price. You will be told what to do." That is what conversion is: It is a change from thinking that you can run your own life, to an acknowledgment that God holds the program in his hands, and he has the right to tell you what to do. This was the first thing Paul experienced when he became a Christian, this right of Jesus Christ to be Lord, and to tell him what he was to do. Conversion is a revolutionary change of government resulting in a radical change in behavior. That is what happened to Paul. He was put on a wholly different lifestyle. He was told to go into the city. Now he would no longer be giving the orders. He would no longer be directing men and sending them where he wanted them to go and doing what he wanted to do, but he would be told what he was to do.
A number of years ago when Major Ian Thomas was here, he gave from this platform a remarkable recounting of the tremendous re-evaluation that came to Paul's life when he was converted on the Damascus road. I do not recall verbatim what Major Thomas said, but as I remember it his appraisal of Paul's experience went something like this: There was a time, Paul says,
When, as Saul of Tarsus, I made my own independent evaluation of this man called Jesus of Nazareth: I investigated into his life to see if this leader of the Nazarene cult was worth following or not. I made my own independent evaluation of what he was worth. I was not unfair, I was not unkind; I applied to him all the normal, natural standards by which any life is evaluated, in any age. I used the normal standards for determining the worth of any individual at any time.
I looked first into his ancestry and discovered there was a cloud over his birth right from the start. As I investigated it, it became quite clear that he was the illegitimate son of a faithless woman, who had been taken in by a kind-hearted carpenter and raised as his own son. But he was an outcast from the beginning, and socially he was worth absolutely nothing. I investigated his professional standing, and I discovered that he was born of peasant stock and had attended no schools. He was raised as a simple carpenter in a village of no standing in Israel, and professionally he was worth absolutely nothing.
As Saul of Tarsus, I investigated his theological and ecclesiastical background. I found that he had sat at nobody's feet; he had been to no seminary; he had had no ecclesiastical or theological training. In fact, he was repudiated by all the ecclesiastical authorities of his day. He was nothing but an incorrigible street preacher and a tub-thumping rabble-rouser, and as far as his professional ecclesiastical and theological standing was concerned he was worth absolutely nothing.
Furthermore, I looked into his standing financially. I found he had no bank account; that he was born in a cave and laid in a borrowed manger and that he lived in other peoples' homes. He was an incorrigible scrounger; he was always borrowing things. He borrowed money to pay his taxes, he borrowed his clothes from other people, he rode around on a borrowed donkey; he died on a borrowed cross, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. Financially, from the standpoint of the accumulation of this world's goods, he was worth absolutely nothing. So as I investigated and applied to him the normal standards by which any life is evaluated, I discovered that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was not worth following. He was worth nothing.
But on the Damascus road something happened. There, in the blinding flash of a moment, I looked into the face of a man, and I saw God. I discovered that he whom I thought to be worth nothing was the Lord of everything; that he was the God of glory, that everything that is made is upheld by the word of his power; that he is behind all things, and he is the very imprint and image of God. There I found that he whom I thought to be nothing, was everything, and I, whom I thought to be everything, was nothing. In that moment I came to a tremendous reversal of all the values of my life. Later I learned that I, who was nothing, could be filled with him who was everything; and that would make my life something.
Surely that is what we have in this remarkable account. It has always seemed to me that here is a striking parallel to the process of photography. God, in a sense, took a picture of Jesus Christ at this moment, and printed it upon the soul of this young man, Saul of Tarsus. From that moment on, anyone who looked at Paul the Apostle never saw Paul; he saw Jesus Christ. The fundamental principle of photography is to take light-sensitive salts, spread them on a film, and keep them in total darkness until the precise moment when what you want recorded is exposed to it. That is what happened to Saul of Tarsus. He was a young man, very sensitive to the things of God, and yet kept in darkness until the moment when the light was exposed. In that blinding light he saw an image, the image of Jesus Christ. It was printed indelibly upon his soul. After an exposure to light film is always kept in darkness to develop. It is put down into dark and bitter waters for awhile, and that is also what we find here. The newest apostle was led by the hand into the city of Damascus where for three days and nights he neither ate nor drank, while the image to which he was exposed was developed and imbedded unforgettably in his heart. Saul of Tarsus was crucified, and Jesus Christ was seen in his life from then on.
In the next section we see the Lord Jesus moving further to prepare this man, to reclaim him from the worthlessness of his empty life which he had thought was so full, to redeem him and to set him on the path of true value.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias said, "Lord, I have heard much from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine..." (Acts 9:10-15a RSV)
Now Paul is converted. Now he is a Christian. And what is the first thing he experienced as a Christian? The life of the body of Christ. That is wonderful, is it not? Two unknown, obscure Christians are sent to him. He meets them and is immediately helped by the strengthening that can come from the body, from other Christians. First there is a man named Judas. That is all we know about him. Saul is led to his house whom he has never met before. While he is there a man named Ananias is sent to minister to him.
Is there not a joyful, poetic irony about this, that the Holy Spirit has chosen two names which are tainted names elsewhere in the New Testament, Judas and Ananias. These names belong to two other people: Judas the betrayer of our Lord; and Ananias, the first Christian to manifest the deceit and hypocrisy of an unreal life. Yet, here are two people, bearing the same names, that are honored and used of God. It is just a little touch, but it seems so much like the Holy Spirit to use names like this.
These men come and minister to Paul. Ananias was understandably reluctant to come. Saul had been ready to drag people off to prison and put them to death because they were Christians, and so he is understandably hesitant. But the Lord reassures him, telling him to go because Saul is praying.
That is the first mark of a Christian; he begins to pray. He recognizes that God rules, and there is a relationship between man and God, and so he begins to pray. God says to Ananias, "You needn't be afraid of a man who prays. Go to him, because he is praying." Thus Saul of Tarsus began to experience the joy of body life through these other Christians ministering to him.
Then notice that he is called and given a specific ministry.
But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9:15-16 RSV)
Two things Paul was told about his ministry:
One, where it would be manifested. It was to be to three groups. First, to the Gentiles, that great body of pagans outside of Israel who knew not the name of God and who were involved in pagan practices and worship. The Gentiles are the non-Jewish nations of the world. To them this man would be sent. It was his primary obligation, to go to the Gentiles. Later he would call himself the Apostle to the Gentiles.
The second area of ministry was to kings. He was to penetrate the power structures of the day in which he lived. He was to speak to those at the top, to minister to those who were in positions of authority and influence. Throughout the book of Acts you will find the record of his appearing again and again before governors, procurators, kings, and finally even the emperor himself. This man was called to witness to the up-and-outs, as well as to the down-and-outs.
Then, third, he was to be a minister to the sons of Israel. That was last on the list. Paul always wanted to put it first. We shall see, as we trace the further story of Acts, that there was a struggle in this young man's life. He longed to be the instrument by which Israel would be redeemed. He wanted to minister primarily to the Jews and he felt he was equipped to do so. But he was not running the program anymore; God was. God had a struggle with him to teach him this, but this was the order he followed. Although he had great impact upon his own nation, the sons of Israel, he was primarily the minister to the Gentiles.
Then the Lord revealed how he was to make his impact. "I will show him," he said, "how much he must suffer for my name's sake." He was called to suffer. There is a word we do not like -- suffer. Yet the Christian life invariably involves suffering. This same man will write to the Philippians and tell them that they were called not only to believe in Jesus but also to suffer for his name's sake. Why is that? Why is suffering a part of Christian life? Because, of course, suffering is the activity of love. It is love that bears hurt. Love suffers. It takes the blame, it takes the hurt, it is willing to endure. Anyone called to be a Christian must learn to suffer, must learn to love. Love is hurt in the process of loving. That is why, in this fallen world, love must always suffer. This man is called to enter into the sufferings of Jesus Christ because Jesus loves this world, loves fallen man and wants to redeem him. But he cannot redeem without being hurt in return. So this man is also called to be hurt. What a tremendously responsive instrument he became. How much he suffered in order that he might manifest the love of the heart of God for a lost and wicked world.
When we are called to follow Jesus Christ, we are called to suffer. We have to forgive. That hurts, doesn't it? We do not want to forgive; we want to hold out and take vengeance. We want our ego to be fed a little and our pride satisfied. But God has called us to suffer and forgive. That is part of the Christian life. But finally, this man is not called to do this in his own strength: God never sends forth men at their own charges; he is called and equipped to do it.
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19a RSV)
No one can manifest the suffering of Christian love without being filled with the Holy Spirit. This man needed such a filling. As Ananias laid his hands on him he was filled with the Holy Spirit. There were no tongues, no sign, no manifestation; there was simply a quiet infilling of the Holy Spirit, just as occurs today with anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit came to live in him, to dwell within him to fill his life and equip him to manifest the love, the suffering love, of Jesus Christ. That is what this man experienced.
Immediately it changed his vision. Scales fell from his eyes. I think this is both literal and symbolic. All those long, built-up prejudices of a Pharisee against Gentiles; all the bigotry, the pride and the prejudice that twisted and distorted his view of the Gentile world; all of it disappeared in one moment. This man saw the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike, as men and women bearing the image of God and needing to be redeemed. He never again looked at them any longer as Jew and Gentile. He no longer saw those divisions. As he tells us himself, he learned to judge no man according to the flesh but to see in him only a potential subject for the kingdom of God.
Then, finally, he was baptized. He took his place as a Christian. He identified himself with those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. God has now prepared his instrument to carry the gospel out to all the nations of the world. Is it not true that you and I are here this morning because of the conversion of the Apostle Paul? We have all been blessed through the conversion of this man. His life has made great impact upon every one of us. Not one of us would even be here if it were not for this mighty apostle to the Gentiles. So, as we close, we are just going to stand quietly together and join in a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the ministry of this man. Let us understand that we can be changed even as Paul was, if we discover the same principle that he discovered, that we who are nothing can be filled with him who is everything -- and that will make us something!
Our heavenly Father, thank you for this amazing story of this amazing transformation in the life of Saul of Tarsus. Thank you for the impact his life has had upon the world, this man who has changed the course of human history and who would have been an unknown name, lost in the dust of the centuries had he never had this encounter on the Damascus road. But, because he was put in touch with Him who is everything, Him who runs the universe, Him to whom all power in heaven and earth is committed, he became an unforgettable name, a name of impact in human history. Lord, teach us mighty lessons by this same truth. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.
- Echo pas 225 head replacement
- Small ranch front porch ideas
- All inclusive resort upper peninsula
- Mustang shelby super snake 2014
- Hyalite canyon hiking trail map
—Verse by verse
This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 9:1-19. These verses describe the conversion of Saul with the assistance of Ananias.
The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
¶“1Saul kept breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus. The letters authorized Saul, if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, to bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2).
¶“3As Saul, on his journey to Damascus, came near the city, suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. 4He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 5Saul said, 'Who are you, Lord?' The Lord replied, 'I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. [ It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' 6So Saul, shaking and astounded, asked, 'Lord, what do you want me to do?' The Lord said to Saul,] 'Arise and go into the city, and there you will be told what you must do.' ” (Acts 9:3-6).
¶“7Saul’s companions on the journey stood speechless. They heard the sound, but saw nobody. 8Saul arose from the ground. Although his eyes were open, he couldn't see anything. His companions led him by the hand, and took him into Damascus. 9Saul was blind for three days. He didn't eat or drink.” (Acts 9:7-9).
¶“10There was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ';Ananias!' Ananias said, 'Behold Lord, here I am.' 11The Lord said to him, 'Arise, and go to the street named Straight. Inquire at the house of Judas for someone named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, 12and has seen a vision. He saw a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him to give him back his sight.' (Acts 9:10-12).
¶“13Ananias replied, 'Lord, I have heard from many about this man, and how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. 14Here in Damascus he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.' 15But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Be on your way to him, for he is my chosen vessel to carry my name before the nations and their kings, and before the children of Israel. 16I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.' (Acts 5:13-16).
¶“17Ananias went on his way. When he entered the house, he laid his hands on Saul. Ananias said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road you were travelling, has sent me. I come so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' 18Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. Then Saul arose and was baptized. 19He took food and was strengthened. Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus.” (Acts 9:17-19).
1 Saul the Slayer
¶"Saul kept breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus. The letters authorized Saul, if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, to bring them bound to Jerusalem."(Acts 9:1-2).
- Saul at Damascus. Saul has ravaged the church in Jerusalem, only to find that his persecution and scattering of that church has caused it to rapidly spread. Saul heads northwards to try to head it off at Damascus in southern Syria, and stop it spreading further north.
- The Way. At this point the terms “Christians” and “Christianity” had not become common (Acts 11:26). The new religion was known as “the Way”, and its followers were called “disciples” (eg Acts 19:23,30). These descriptions remain acceptable to use as descriptions of Christ’s religion and followers. Jesus himself provided “The Way” as a name for his church and his faith. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me."(John 14:6).
- It always surprises me how willing people are to invent strange names for themselves when there are several perfectly good descriptions in the word of God. Why do we hear names such as, “Jehovah’s Witnesses”; “Seventh Day Adventists”; “Roman Catholics”; “Uniting Church”; “Anglicans”; “Reformed Baptists”; and so forth? None of these names honors Jesus, nor were they ever on his lips or written in his word. What has gone so wrong that we cannot stay with the scriptural names? “I'm a Christian, I follow the Way”—isn't that enough?
2 Saul the Shaken
¶"As Saul, on his journey to Damascus, came near the city, suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. [ It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So Saul, shaking and astounded, asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Lord said to Saul,] “Arise and go into the city, and there you will be told what you must do.”"(Acts 9:3-6).
- Who Are You Lord? Saul’s response to the light and the voice acknowledges the one speaking to him as “Lord” but doesn't acknowledge that this Lord is Jesus. Saul, a Pharisee, certainly believed in angels and spirits (Acts 23:8). He did not believe that Jesus, a man, had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. Even though the voice said, "Why do you persecute me?"(Acts 9:4), Saul did not recognize that Jesus speaking. Yet Saul was obsessed with persecuting the followers of Jesus.
- Kick against the goads. Jesus makes it plain to Saul, that Saul is not hearing an angel. He is hearing Jesus, and Jesus is Lord. Having made that clear, Jesus shows Saul, in the remark about the goads, that he can look deep into Saul’s heart. A goad is a pointed stick used to prod stubborn beasts of burden into movement.
- What were the goads that Saul was kicking against? They weren't pangs of conscience, because Saul later said, "I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God until this day"(Acts 23:1)."I truly thought that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus"(Acts 26:9).
- The goads were the words of truth from the gospel, and the proofs in the form of signs and miracles. Paul, in his dealings with disciples of Christ, could not help but be informed about the message preached and the signs done. An honest man, like Saul, would have to be pricked by the truth and finding it ever harder to argue against it.
- Missing words. Some translations omit, in verse 5, the section marked with square brackets. However other versions (such as the New King James Version) include the extra words. The omission or inclusion depends on which texts a translation follows. Paul later relates that Jesus spoke the part about kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14).
¶"Saul’s companions on the journey stood speechless. They heard the sound, but saw nobody. Saul arose from the ground. Although his eyes were open, he couldn't see anything. His companions led him by the hand, and took him into Damascus. Saul was blind for three days. He didn't eat or drink."(Acts 9:7-9).
- Stood speechless. When Saul’s companions got up off the ground, they "stood speechless"(Acts 9:7). You might expect them to be all babbling at each other, “What happened? What on earth was that? Is anybody hurt? Was that lightning? Are you all ok?” But instead they stood silent, unable or unwilling to say anything. They'd seen a glory brighter than the noonday sun. They were awe-struck and words failed them.
- Saul was blind. Although Saul opened his eyes, he had no sight. The glory of the light (Acts 22:11) had caused some kind of scale to form on his eyes (Acts 9:18). Saul’s companions were not affected in that manner, although they saw the light as Saul did. This blindness was therefore a personal lesson and a sign to Saul from Jesus. It was to impress upon him that he had allowed himself to be blind to Jesus’s glory, so now for a time he will be blinded by it. When the eyes of his heart see the truth, then the eyes of his flesh will also see. He is now under Christ’s power, and how easily the Lord has humbled him and put an end to his persecutions.
- Contradictions? Paul says that his travelling companions did not hear the voice of Jesus who spoke to him (Acts 22:19), whereas Luke says they heard the sound (Acts 9:7). Paul also says that he and his companions all fell to the ground (Acts 26:14), whereas Luke says that Saul fell to the ground and his companions stood speechless (Acts 9:7). This is one of those famous “contradictions” that some people think they have discovered in the Bible. However Luke is hardly likely to write an account that contradicts Paul’s own accounts, and then quote those accounts in the same document! It is easy to reconcile these accounts: Saul and his companions all fell to the ground when the light shone, but his companions stood up before Saul did. Saul heard what Jesus said, but his companions heard only the sound, but did not hear in the sense of comprehending what was said.
3 Saul the Servant
¶"There was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” Ananias said, “Behold Lord, here I am.” The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street named Straight. Inquire at the house of Judas for someone named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, and has seen a vision. He saw a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him to give him back his sight.” "(Acts 9:9-12).
- Saul s Conversion. We often hear reference to “Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus”. However, Saul was converted in Damascus with the ministry of Ananias. Whilst his conversion may not have happened without the experience on the road, that experience was not conversion. A person can certainly be converted without any such experience as Saul had, so conversion cannot be such an experience. Saul was told by the Lord to go into Damascus where he would be told what do do; Ananias was appointed to tell him. This account does not inform us what Saul was told, but unless he was told, and unless he obeyed, he could not be regarded as “converted” or a “disciple”.
- People who speak of “Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus” may think that conversion is an ephiphany and a conviction forced upon those the Lord has chosen. In fact, it is a hearing of the word by a human ministry, and a personal decision to believe and obey that message. That's why Saul was sent into Damascus and Ananias was sent to him. The Lord may have made an exception of Paul in the manner in which he confronted Saul on the road. But he made no exception in the manner by which Saul would subsequently be converted.
¶"Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, and how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. Here in Damascus he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Be on your way to him, for he is my chosen vessel to carry my name before the nations and their kings, and before the children of Israel. I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” "(Acts 9:13-16).
- Ananias objects. Ananias seems to object; although perhaps he is just seeking clarification when there seems to be a conflict between what he has heard from others, and what he is hearing from the Lord. The Lord says, in effect, that he knows Saul better than anyone else, and he has chosen Saul as the right man for a great task.
- The nations, their kings, and the children of Israel. The apostle Paul (whom Saul was to become) is known as the apostle to the Gentiles, here called "the nations and their kings." However Paul was to include the synagogues of the Jews in his outreach as he journeyed to the cities of the Gentiles. Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles "and to the children of Israel".
- He must suffer. Saul was going to suffer greatly in his role as the apostle Paul. This was not punishment for the suffering his persecution had brought to the disciples of Christ. In fact, by undergoing much suffering for Jesus (2Corinthians 11:23-28), Paul could come to terms with the terrible things he had done against Jesus.
- Saul later called Paul. Saul of Tarsus later took the name Paul (Acts 13:9). Saul was the name of the Benjaminite who became first king of Israel (1Sam 9:15-17). Saul of Tarsus was also a Benjaminite (Philippians 3:4-5). No doubt he wore this kingly name with pride. The name "Paul" comes from the Latin for "little" (the root of our English words "pauper" and "paucity"). To give up the kingly name Saul, and take up the name Paul meaning "little", shows humility. But Paul is the more humble, for he does not stop at the name: he calls himself, "I Paul a servant..." (Colossians 1:23,25).
¶"Ananias went on his way. When he entered the house, he laid his hands on Saul. Ananias said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road you were travelling, has sent me. I come so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. Then Saul arose and was baptized. He took food and was strengthened. Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus."(Acts 9:17-19).
- Immediately. When Ananias laid hands on Saul to heal him, the result was immediate and complete. Saul could see again. In my experience, immediate and complete healing doesn't happen today when people claim to have the powers of Ananias and when they lay hands on people to heal them.
- Filled with the Spirit. Saul had not been filled with the Holy Spirit when Jesus spoke to him on the road. Ananias was sent so that Saul could be filled with the Spirit. Ananias was not an apostle, so the laying on of his hands would not impart the Spirit to Saul (Acts 8:18). At his baptism Saul certainly received the Holy Spirit as all converts do (Acts 2:38). We are left, however, to wonder how and when Saul received "the signs of an apostle" or the same powers that the twelve apostles possessed (2Cor 12:11-12). The safest assumption is that Jesus gave Saul his powers at an undisclosed time following his conversion.
- He arose and was baptized. Ananias was to tell Saul the things that he must do. Baptism was one of those things (Acts 22:16). Why then do people say that baptism is not something we must do?
- He took food. Saul had been fasting and praying (Acts 9:9,11). Now, after his baptism, he was reconciled to God and was covered by the death of Jesus (Romans 6:3-11). He could attend to the needs of the body having put his soul to rights by the word and power of Jesus.
- Other accounts. Saul’s conversion is described (in his own words) in two other chapters (22 and 26) so we will have opportunity for further discussion of the subject.
A Startling Fact
J.W. McGarvey, circa 1823, in his Commentary on Acts tells this most interesting story...
Engaged in a public debate, a few years since, with a Doctor of Divinity of a numerous and powerful party, I determined to apply to him a test which had been employed before by some of my brethren, and charged that he dare not, as he valued his ministerial position, and even his membership in the Church, give to mourners seeking salvation the answers given by inspired men, in the very words, which they employed. He interrupted me, by asking if I intended to insinuate that he would not preach what he believed to be the truth. I replied, that I had no disposition to question his honesty, but that I was stating a startling fact, which ought to be made to ring in the ears of the people.
I then told the audience I would put my statement to a test at once, and turning to the Doctor, I said: "Sir, if you had a number of mourners before you, as Peter had on Pentecost, pierced to the heart with a sense of guilt, and exclaiming, What shall we do? would you dare to say to them, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?' Or, if you were called into a private house, like Ananias, to see man fasting and weeping and praying, would you dare to say to him, 'Why do you tarry? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord?' I pause for a reply." I stood waiting, and the immense audience held their breath, until the silence became painful; but the Doctor hung his head and answered not one word.
Copyright on print
Commentary on Acts 9:1-19
God orchestrated a meeting between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch on the Gaza road west of Jerusalem (8:26), and Jesus met Saul outside of Jerusalem as he approached Damascus (9:3).
Neither Saul nor the Ethiopian Eunuch met or was introduced to Jesus in Jerusalem or in the Temple precincts. God meets, calls, and transforms people wherever God chooses. God meets, calls, and transforms people in and beyond religious institutions. Jesus revealed himself to Saul and called him, while he was on a mission to murder those who believed that Jesus was God’s Messiah. The preacher might preach that God doesn’t limit God’s self-revelation to Christians; God reveals God’s self to whomever God chooses and when God chooses.
Saul had condoned the murder of Stephen (8:1-3); he made it his calling to exterminate all those belonging to “the way” (9:2). For this mission, Saul obtained the official consent of the elite religious authorities, the Chief Priests, representing the Temple and its cult, the center of Judaism. In the first century, Rome ruled and controlled the world, including the Temple, its services to a degree, and its leaders and officiates.
Paul himself was a well-connected and highly educated Jewish man, a second-generation Pharisee, and a Roman citizen (16:37; 23:6; Galatians 1:13-16; Philippians 3:5) — all of which God would eventually use in the service of the good news. As a well-connected insider, Saul had marginalized those who joined the Jewish sect centered around Jesus (28:22), those called Christian, by others, in Antioch first (11:26). The preacher might consider that sometimes we use faulty barometers to determine whether or not an organization is of God; we decided based on the power and connections that the leader or the organization enjoys, by the membership numbers and by the size and magnificence of the building, but these are superficial criteria.
When Saul becomes a follower of Jesus the Messiah, he does not turn his back on his Jewish brothers and sisters or on Judaism. God did not change Saul’s name to Paul any more than God changed Cornelius’s name (13:9). Saul has a Jewish name and a Roman name prior to his calling, and he has a Jewish and Roman name afterwards. A lot has been preached about Saul/Paul and his call. But Ananias is also called to do and to be something that takes him out of his comfort zone and that requires blind faith. Intertwined with Saul’s call is the Lord’s calling of Ananias to be present for and to lay hands on Saul.
How shall we preach this? Just as the angel of the Lord instructed Philip to “Get up and go,” the Lord told Ananias to “Get up and go.” Sometimes we respond to a call without knowing exactly what we are walking into or what the consequences of our call will be, but we just know we must get up and go. To lay hands on a person who has blood on his hands, to follow despite the negative you know and the good you have yet to see, requires a blind faith.
The glorified Jesus called Saul’s name twice, like when Yhwh called Samuel (I Samuel 3:4). God only calls Ananias’s name once, but Ananias answers like Samuel did, “Here I am Lord” (9:10). Jesus called Saul by his Hebrew name, brother to brother — within his Jewish context. Despite Paul’s past, he declares that God called him from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). Before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road, Saul believed he was doing God’s will. But his persecution of the believers was tantamount to violence against God. The preacher might consider that if our sense of a calling permits us to inflict violence against others who do not believe as we believe, then that call is not from God; that in committing violence against others in defense of our own religion is not a part of the calling and justice of God. We are not doing God a favor, but by harming others, we wound God.
Saul’s call begins with God disrupting Saul’s journey with a vision in which he is embraced by a flashing light from heaven (9:3). Some of us may stand in need of a disruption because we may be on a mission in the service of an institution and not in the service of God. God embraced Saul before God rebuked him. This too might preach. In response to the luminous divine embrace, Paul fell to the ground. The divine presence, divine love is humbling. It is while Paul is lying on the ground that he hears God’s voice (verse 4). Saul’s response shows that he knows somebody — not just something — has embraced and confronted him, someone to whom respect is due, for he answers “Who are you, Lord?” (verse 5). Jesus speaks to Saul as one in solidarity with those whom he persecuted: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (9:6, NRSV).
The double imperatives connected by the conjunction and, “Get up (anistami) and go,” constitute a pattern we find in Acts. Saul, who has been blinded by God’s revelatory disruption of his journey, is told to continue on into Damascus where he will be given further instructions. This begins a faith walk for Saul. He will go blind, being led by his companions, into a city where he is known as and is expected to arrive as the persecutor of “the way,” as the enemy of Jesus, the Christ. The tables are turned; Saul will now be risking his own life for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Lord also appeared to Ananias in a vision, instructing him too to “get up and go” and lay his hands upon Saul of Tarsus (9:10-12). Ananias is also walking by blind faith, believing that his vision is truly from God, that Saul has indeed been transformed into a friend of the Way. God informs Ananias that Saul will expect him because he has foreseen, in a vision, Ananias coming to him and laying hands on him.
In this pericope, God directs through visions. As in Acts 10-11 where Peter and Cornelius receive visions and at Acts 16 where Paul and Silas receive a vision, both Saul and Ananias receive a vision orchestrating their otherwise unlikely rendezvous. Unfortunately in Acts, only men receive visions, as the Joel quotation promises (2:17). But this narrative and theological bias should not be used to teach that God does not give visions and dreams to females, because God will not be restricted in terms of whom, when, and how God calls.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
God who calls us into service,
Transform us as you transformed Paul. Shape us into children who rejoice in knowing and proclaiming you to the world. Amen.
We are called ELW 720
Unexpected and mysterious ELW 258
All are welcome ELW 641
The Call, Ralph Vaughan Williams
Commentary 19 9 acts 1
Acts 9 Bible Commentary
The conversion of Saul. (1-9) Saul converted preaches Christ. (10-22) Saul is persecuted at Damascus, and goes to Jerusalem. (23-31) Cure of Eneas. (32-35) Dorcas raised to life. (36-43)
Commentary on Acts 9:1-9
(Read Acts 9:1-9)
So ill informed was Saul, that he thought he ought to do all he could against the name of Christ, and that he did God service thereby; he seemed to breathe in this as in his element. Let us not despair of renewing grace for the conversion of the greatest sinners, nor let such despair of the pardoning mercy of God for the greatest sin. It is a signal token of Divine favour, if God, by the inward working of his grace, or the outward events of his providence, stops us from prosecuting or executing sinful purposes. Saul saw that Just One, 14; 26:13. How near to us is the unseen world! It is but for God to draw aside the veil, and objects are presented to the view, compared with which, whatever is most admired on earth is mean and contemptible. Saul submitted without reserve, desirous to know what the Lord Jesus would have him to do. Christ's discoveries of himself to poor souls are humbling; they lay them very low, in mean thoughts of themselves. For three days Saul took no food, and it pleased God to leave him for that time without relief. His sins were now set in order before him; he was in the dark concerning his own spiritual state, and wounded in spirit for sin. When a sinner is brought to a proper sense of his own state and conduct, he will cast himself wholly on the mercy of the Saviour, asking what he would have him to do. God will direct the humbled sinner, and though he does not often bring transgressors to joy and peace in believing, without sorrows and distress of conscience, under which the soul is deeply engaged as to eternal things, yet happy are those who sow in tears, for they shall reap in joy.
Commentary on Acts 9:10-22
(Read Acts 9:10-22)
A good work was begun in Saul, when he was brought to Christ's feet with those words, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And never did Christ leave any who were brought to that. Behold, the proud Pharisee, the unmerciful oppressor, the daring blasphemer, prayeth! And thus it is even now, and with the proud infidel, or the abandoned sinner. What happy tidings are these to all who understand the nature and power of prayer, of such prayer as the humbled sinner presents for the blessings of free salvation! Now he began to pray after another manner than he had done; before, he said his prayers, now, he prayed them. Regenerating grace sets people on praying; you may as well find a living man without breath, as a living Christian without prayer. Yet even eminent disciples, like Ananias, sometimes stagger at the commands of the Lord. But it is the Lord's glory to surpass our scanty expectations, and show that those are vessels of his mercy whom we are apt to consider as objects of his vengeance. The teaching of the Holy Spirit takes away the scales of ignorance and pride from the understanding; then the sinner becomes a new creature, and endeavours to recommend the anointed Saviour, the Son of God, to his former companions.
Commentary on Acts 9:23-31
(Read Acts 9:23-31)
When we enter into the way of God, we must look for trials; but the Lord knows how to deliver the godly, and will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape. Though Saul's conversion was and is a proof of the truth of Christianity, yet it could not, of itself, convert one soul at enmity with the truth; for nothing can produce true faith, but that power which new-creates the heart. Believers are apt to be too suspicious of those against whom they have prejudices. The world is full of deceit, and it is necessary to be cautious, but we must exercise charity, 21. Christ's witnesses cannot be slain till they have finished their testimony. The persecutions were stayed. The professors of the gospel walked uprightly, and enjoyed much comfort from the Holy Ghost, in the hope and peace of the gospel, and others were won over to them. They lived upon the comfort of the Holy Ghost, not only in the days of trouble and affliction, but in days of rest and prosperity. Those are most likely to walk cheerfully, who walk circumspectly.
Commentary on Acts 9:32-35
(Read Acts 9:32-35)
Christians are saints, or holy people; not only the eminent ones, as Saint Peter and Saint Paul, but every sincere professor of the faith of Christ. Christ chose patients whose diseases were incurable in the course of nature, to show how desperate was the case of fallen mankind. When we were wholly without strength, as this poor man, he sent his word to heal us. Peter does not pretend to heal by any power of his own, but directs Eneas to look up to Christ for help. Let none say, that because it is Christ, who, by the power of his grace, works all our works in us, therefore we have no work, no duty to do; for though Jesus Christ makes thee whole, yet thou must arise, and use the power he gives thee.
Commentary on Acts 9:36-43
(Read Acts 9:36-43)
Many are full of good words, who are empty and barren in good works; but Tabitha was a great doer, no great talker. Christians who have not property to give in charity, may yet be able to do acts of charity, working with their hands, or walking with their feet, for the good of others. Those are certainly best praised whose own works praise them, whether the words of others do so or not. But such are ungrateful indeed, who have kindness shown them, and will not acknowledge it, by showing the kindness that is done them. While we live upon the fulness of Christ for our whole salvation, we should desire to be full of good works, for the honour of his name, and for the benefit of his saints. Such characters as Dorcas are useful where they dwell, as showing the excellency of the word of truth by their lives. How mean then the cares of the numerous females who seek no distinction but outward decoration, and who waste their lives in the trifling pursuits of dress and vanity! Power went along with the word, and Dorcas came to life. Thus in the raising of dead souls to spiritual life, the first sign of life is the opening of the eyes of the mind. Here we see that the Lord can make up every loss; that he overrules every event for the good of those who trust in him, and for the glory of his name.
- Bible > Bible Commentary
- Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary (concise)
- Acts 9
Acts 9 – The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
A. Saul on the road to Damascus.
1. (1-2) Saul’s purpose in traveling to Damascus.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
a. Then Saul: We last saw Saul in Acts 8:3, where it says that he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Here he continued and expanded this work to the city of Damascus (about 130 miles or 210 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem; a six-day journey altogether).
i. Still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord: The picture is of an angry, violent man absolutely convinced of his own righteousness. Saul hated the disciples of the Lord. He wasn’t seeking Jesus when Jesus sought him. We might say that Saul was decided against Jesus when Jesus decided for Saul.
ii. Of course, we don’t know what Saul looked like. An old apocryphal book, dating to the end of the first century, described Paul like this: “A man of moderate stature, with crisp hair, crooked legs, blue eyes, large knit brows, and long nose, at times looking like a man, at times like an angel.” (Cited in Gaebelein)
b. Went to the high priest: Saul did his persecuting work under the direct approval of the highest religious authorities. He asked and received letters from the high priest authorizing his mission.
i. The high priest mentioned here was Caiaphas. In December 1990 an ossuary (something like a burial urn; essentially a bone box) was discovered in Jerusalem. The ossuary was inscribed with the name of this Caiaphas and positively dated to this period. Inside were discovered some of the remains of a 60-year-old man, whom many researchers believe was this same Caiaphas. If true, these are the first physical remains (such as bones or ashes) of a specific person mentioned in the New Testament.
c. Still breathing threats and murder: Even after Saul became a Christian, he remembered his days as a persecutor. In Philippians 3, he made mention of this background, saying he was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
i. In Galatians 1:13-14, Paul added more regarding his background: For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
ii. Saul of Tarsus – this highly educated man – thought that Christianity was both wrong and deceptive. Perhaps he took his example from Phinehas, who in the Book of Numbers killed an immoral man and woman with a spear, and God honored his action by halting a plague. Maybe Saul thought he was trying to stop a plague of false religion.
d. If he found any who were of the Way: Here, Christianity is referred to as the Way. This seems to be the earliest name for the Christian movement, and a fitting one – used five times in Acts.
i. The name the Way means that Christianity is more than a belief or a set of opinions or doctrines. Following Jesus is a way of living as well as believing.
ii. It is significant to see that there was a Christian community large enough in Damascus for Saul to be concerned about. Christianity – the Way – was spreading everywhere.
2. (3-6) God meets Paul on the road to Damascus.
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
a. Suddenly a light shone around him from heaven… and heard a voice: Somewhere outside of Damascus, this suddenly happened. This spectacular event must be regarded as unusual. God does not normally confront sinners with a heavenly light and an audible voice from heaven.
i. In Acts 22:6 Paul revealed that this happened at mid-day, when the sun shines at its brightest. Yet Paul said that this light was brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13).
b. Then he fell to the ground: Saul’s reaction was simply to fall to the ground. This wasn’t because of honor or reverence for God, it was simply a reaction of survival – he was terrified at the heavenly light.
i. In the minds of many or most people, Saul fell from a horse that he rode. Yet this account in Acts 8, nor the telling in Acts 22:3-11, nor the account of Acts 26:12-20 make any mention of a horse or of Saul riding any kind of animal. It may be that he rode, but the text does not specifically say so.
ii. “Many persons suppose he was on horseback, and painters thus represent him; but this is utterly without foundation. Painters are, in almost every case, wretched commentators.” (Clarke)
iii. “It is significant in so short a book attempting to cover the expansion of Christianity from its small beginnings in Jerusalem to a religion that filled whole empire that the tale of one man’s conversion should be so greatly emphasized.” (Boice)
c. And heard a voice saying to him: According to F.F. Bruce, the rabbis of Saul’s day mostly believed that God no longer spoke to man directly, as He did in the days of the prophets. However, they believed that one could hear the “echo” of God’s voice, what they called “the daughter of the voice of God.” Here, Saul learned that one can hear God directly.
d. Saul, Saul: When God repeats a name twice, it is to display deep emotion, but not necessarily anger (as in the Martha, Martha of Luke 10:41 and the Jerusalem, Jerusalem of Matthew 23:37).
e. Why are you persecuting Me? As the heavenly light overwhelmed him, Saul was confronted by the true nature of his crime: He persecuted God, not man.
i. Saul thought that he was serving God in viciously attacking Christians, but he discovered that he was fighting God.
ii. This has been sadly true through history. Often those who are convinced they are doing God a favor do much of the worst persecution and torture ever practiced.
iii. We shouldn’t only emphasize the “Me” in the phrase “why are you persecuting Me?”. We should also notice the “why” and see that Jesus asked “why are you persecuting Me?”. That is, “Saul, why are you doing such a futile thing?”
f. I am Jesus: Though Jesus was a fairly common name in that day, the ascended Jesus of Nazareth needed no further identification. When He said, “I am Jesus,” Saul knew exactly which Jesus spoke. In all probability, Saul heard Jesus teach in Jerusalem; and as a likely member of the Sanhedrin, Saul sat in judgment of Jesus in the trial before His crucifixion.
i. “Unless Saul was hallucinating, the appearance of Jesus proved that Jesus was alive and that Jesus was God.” (Boice)
g. Who are You, Lord?… Lord, what do You want me to do?: Saul responded with two of the most important questions anyone can (and must) ask.
i. Most everyone has questions they would like to ask God. A Gallup Survey from the 1990s asked people to choose three questions they would most like to ask God. The top five responses were:
· “Will there ever be lasting world peace?”
· “How can I be a better person?”
· “What does the future hold for my family and me?”
· “Will there ever be a cure for all diseases?”
· “Why is there suffering in the world?”
It is strange that people would want to ask God these questions when they are already answered in the Bible. But they really aren’t the most important questions for us to ask. Saul asked the right questions.
ii. Who are You, Lord? We must ask this question with a humble heart, and ask it to God. Jesus showed us exactly who God is, and He can answer this question. Paul spent the rest of his life wanting to know more completely the answer to this question (Philippians 3:10).
iii. What do You want me to do? Few dare to really ask God this question, but when we ask it, we must ask it with submission and determined obedience.
iv. Saul’s question was personal. He asked the question with a “me”: “Lord, what do You want me to do?” We often are quite interested in what God wants others to do. But the surrendered heart asks, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
h. It is hard for you to kick against the goads: This statement from Jesus was actually a small parable regarding Saul and his life.
i. The insertion of it is hard for you to kick against the goads and Lord, what do You want me to do? in Acts 9:5-6 is accurate, but not in Luke’s original text. They were added by scribes, based on Acts 22:10 and 26:14, who thought they were doing God a favor by putting it in here.
ii. A goad was a long, extremely sharp stick used to get an ox going the way you wanted when plowing. One jabbed the hind legs of the ox with the goad until the ox cooperated.
iii. Essentially, Saul was the ox; Jesus was the farmer. Saul was stupid and stubborn – yet valuable, and potentially extremely useful to the Master’s service. Jesus goaded Saul into the right direction, and the goading caused Saul pain. Yet instead of submitting to Jesus, Saul kicked against the goad – and only increased his pain.
iv. It is not too much to say that if we will not ask these two great questions and obediently listen to God’s answers to these questions, then we are acting like stupid oxen.
v. We may complain that God compares us to oxen, and indeed it is an unfair comparison. After all, what ox has ever rebelled against God as we have? God almost owes an apology to oxen!
vi. Something was goading his conscience. Despite all his outward confidence, there was something bothering him inside. He kicked against it to be sure, but it was still there. The unease may have started with Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7:57-60).
i. It is hard for you: This shows the great love of Jesus. He was the persecuted one, yet His concern was for the effect it had on Saul. What a tender heart Jesus has!
j. So he, trembling and astonished: The fact that Saul was trembling and astonished by all of this reminds us that it is not always pleasant to encounter heaven dramatically. Saul was terrified by this experience; not oozing with warm, gushy feelings.
i. In Acts 9, we are only given the briefest account of what happened here. We know more from what Paul says about this experience in Acts 22:3-11, Acts 26:12-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:8. We also know more from what Barnabas said about Saul’s experience in Acts 9:27 and from what Ananias said about Saul’s experience in Acts 9:17. From these accounts, we learn that Jesus appeared to Saul personally in this blinding vision.
ii. In response to this light, Saul undoubtedly shut his eyes as tight as he could; yet, Jesus still appeared before him. After the same pattern, Jesus has often had to appear to us even though we shut our eyes.
iii. In this encounter with Jesus, Saul learned the gospel that he would preach his whole life. He insisted in Galatians 1:11-12, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
k. Lord, what do You want me to do? When Saul asked this question, Jesus only told him what to do right at that moment.
i. This is often the character of God’s direction in our lives. He directs us one step at a time instead of laying out the details of the grand plan all at once.
3. (7-9) Saul immediately after the Damascus road.
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
a. The men who journeyed with him stood speechless: The experience was incomprehensible to Saul’s companions, but as Saul opened his eyes (presumably shut tight in a terrified reaction to the heavenly light), he still could not see (when his eyes were opened he saw no one).
i. We can almost hear God saying to Saul, “You shut your eyes against My light and My Savior. Fine! Spend a few days as blind physically as you have been blind spiritually!”
b. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank: It seems that Saul was so shaken by the experience that he was unable to eat or drink for three days. All Saul could do was simply sit in a blind silence. This was a humbling experience, and a time when Saul must have challenged all his previous ideas about who God was and what pleased God.
i. In the three days of blindness and deprivation, Saul was dying to himself. It would only be after the three days of dying that he would receive resurrection life from Jesus.
B. God ministers to Saul through Ananias.
1. (10-12) God’s message to Ananias.
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
a. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias: We don’t know anything about Ananias from either before or after this meeting with Saul. We don’t know how he came to Damascus, or what happened to him afterward. From what we do know we can think of him as an average follower of Jesus – a certain disciple.
i. Ananias was an ordinary man – not an apostle, a prophet, a pastor, an evangelist, an elder, or a deacon. Yet God used him because he was an ordinary man. If an apostle or a prominent person had ministered to Saul, people might say Paul received his gospel from a man instead of Jesus. In the same way, God needs to use the certain disciple – there is a special work for them to do.
ii. In theory, it wasn’t absolutely necessary that God use a man like Ananias for this work in Saul’s life. Being simply a certain disciple, we can say that God simply used Ananias because God loves to use people, and Ananias was a willing servant. Ananias asked Saul’s question, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6) by the way he lived his life.
b. To him the Lord said in a vision: God spoke to Ananias in a completely different way than He spoke to Saul. Saul had a bold, almost violent confrontation from God, but Ananias heard the voice of God sweetly in a vision, where God called and Ananias obediently responded. To say, “Here I am, Lord” is a perfect response to God.
i. We shouldn’t be surprised if people like Saul receive God’s Word with initial resistance and questioning. Yet we should expect disciples of Jesus to receive God’s Word like Ananias did.
ii. In the case of Ananias, the vision from God was specific. God told him about:
· A specific street (the street called Straight).
· A specific house (the house of Judas).
· A specific man (one called Saul of Tarsus).
· A specific thing the man was doing (he is praying).
· A specific vision the man had (in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias).
This specificity was necessary and important, because God asked Ananias to do something bold and dangerous in meeting Saul, the great persecutor. He needed confirmation along the way that God was guiding him, and God gave him ways to confirm this.
c. Arise and go: God’s instructions to Ananias were clear, but curiously, God told Ananias about Saul’s vision in Ananias’ own vision.
d. Behold, he is praying: This indicated a true change of heart in this man famous for persecuting the disciples of Jesus. One might say that Saul had never really prayed before; he merely repeated formal prayers. Before this:
· His prayers were more mechanical than spiritual.
· He had never prayed with Jesus as mediator.
· He had never prayed in Jesus’ name.
· He had not prayed with a humble heart, near to God.
Saul had said many prayers, but he had never truly prayed.
2. (13-16) God overcomes Ananias’ objections.
Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
a. Lord, I have heard from many about this man: Certainly, Ananias had heard that this angry and violent persecutor named Saul of Tarsus was on his way from Jerusalem. The disciples in Damascus must have anxiously prepared for the coming persecution.
b. I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done:Ananias’ objections were perfectly logical and well founded. However, they presumed that God needed instruction, or at best, counsel. Ananias almost asked, “God, do you know what kind of guy this Saul is?”
i. In fact, Ananias knew a great deal about the mission of Saul (how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem…here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name). It was apparently widely known.
c. He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name: God had a call upon the life of Saul. At this time, God had not yet revealed that calling to Saul. He seems to have told Ananias first.
i. God considered Saul His chosen vessel long before there appeared anything worthy in Saul to choose. God knew what He could make of Saul, even when Saul or Ananias didn’t know.
d. To bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel: This describes in broad outline the calling and future work of the broken, blind, afflicted man Ananias would soon meet. God called him to bring who He is and what He has done (My name) to Gentiles, to kings, and to the children of Israel.
i. We would not blame Ananias for a measure of disbelief – such a great, big calling for such an unlikely man.
e. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake: This was a sobering addition to the great call God put upon the life of Saul. Saul would leave a life of privilege to embrace a higher call, but a call with much suffering.
3. (17-19) Ananias prays and Saul is healed and receives the Holy Spirit.
And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
a. Ananias went his way and entered the house: This took great courage. In the centuries since, Christians have had to deal with those who make pretended conversions to infiltrate the followers of Jesus. Ananias had to overcome this fear or suspicion.
b. Laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul”: The act of laying his hands and the words “Brother Saul” powerfully communicated the love of God. Blind Saul could not see the love on Ananias’ face, so he communicated it through his touch and his voice.
c. Be filled with the Holy Spirit: It seems that this is when Saul was actually born again. Here is where he received the Holy Spirit and was healed from his blindness, which was spiritual blindness as much as physical blindness.
i. Be filled: God did an effective job of breaking Saul, but it wasn’t His intention to leave him broken. God wanted to break Saul so He could fill him and leave him filled.
ii. “It is often said that Saul was converted on the road to Damascus. Strictly speaking, this is not the fact. His conversion began in his encounter with the law but it was not accomplished until the gospel entered his heart by faith, and that did not occur on the road, but in Damascus.” (Lenski)
d. He received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized: When Saul could see – both physically and spiritually – he immediately wanted to identify with Jesus and with the disciples of Jesus by being baptized.
i. We are not told that Ananias told Saul about baptism. Perhaps he did; but it is just as likely (or even more likely) that Saul had seen Christian baptisms (such as on Pentecost, Acts 2:41). Especially, God spoke directly to Saul about many things during his time waiting for Ananias, including even the name of the man who would come and pray for him and restore his sight (Acts 9:12).
e. When he had received food, he was strengthened: Saul immediately began to be strengthened both physically and spiritually. God was concerned about both areas of need.
f. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus: Saul was now numbered among the disciples of Jesus, and became friends with those he had previously tried to imprison or kill. This shows the remarkable, radical nature of his transformation.
i. Paul regarded his conversion experience as a pattern for all believers: Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief… However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1 Timothy 1:13,16).
ii. If Paul’s conversion is a pattern, then we can share his experiences. First, Jesus must confront us with Himself, with our sin and rebellion against Him, even the sins done in ignorance. Then as we put our faith in Him, we must humbly wait for the work within us that only He can do.
iii. Saul’s conversion reminds us that at its core, salvation is something God does in us. What we do is only a response to His work in us.
iv. Saul’s conversion reminds us that God finds some who, by all appearance, are not looking for Him at all. Seeing how God reached Saul encourages us to believe that God can reach the people in our life that we think are very far from Him. We often give up on some people and think they will never come to Jesus; but the example of Saul shows God can reach anyone.
v. Saul’s conversion reminds us that God looks for people to cooperate in the conversion of others, even when they are not really necessary, except as a demonstration of the importance of the family of God.
vi. Saul’s conversion reminds us that it isn’t enough that we be broken before God, though that is necessary. God wants to only use brokenness as a prelude to filling.
C. Saul’s initial ministry in Damascus and Jerusalem.
1. (20-22) Saul preaches powerfully in Damascus.
Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
a. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues: Because Saul was a skilled student of the great rabbi Gamaliel, he took advantage of the synagogue custom that invited any able Jewish man to speak from the Scriptures at synagogue meetings. He took advantage of this opportunity immediately.
b. He preached the Christ: The message of Saul was all about Jesus. He knew they needed to know Jesus in truth, that He is the Son of God.
i. Many people think when Jesus is called the Son of God it is a way of saying He is not God, but something less than God – only “the son of God.” But in Jesus’ day, everyone knew what this title meant. To be called the “son of” something meant you were totally identified with that thing or person, and their identity was your identity. When Jesus called Himself the Son of God, and when others called Him that, it was understood as a clear claim to His deity.
ii. In fact, on two occasions when Jesus called Himself the Son of God, He was accused of blasphemy, of calling Himself God (John 5:17-18, Matthew 26:63-65). Everybody knew what Jesus meant in calling Himself Son of God, and everyone knew what Saul meant when he preached that Jesus is the Son of God.
iii. To preach that Jesus is the Son of God is also to preach the perfection of His life, and especially His work for us on the cross. It is to preach how God saves us through the work of Jesus.
c. Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name: People were genuinely amazed at Saul’s conversion; it was hard to believe just how powerfully Jesus could change a life. Years later, Paul himself would write: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Paul lived that verse long before he wrote it.
d. Saul increased all the more in strength: Saul’s early work for God so soon after his conversion should not surprise us. Often, that is the best time to serve the Lord, and especially to tell others about Jesus. When we are newly converted, we still understand the way people who don’t yet know Jesus think.
i. It is true that young Christians shouldn’t hastily be put in positions of authority in the church (1 Timothy 3:6), but you don’t need a position of authority to serve God and to tell others about Jesus.
ii. Saul’s willingness to serve the Lord was a contributing factor in the fact he increased all the more in strength. As we seek to serve others, God brings more strength to us.
e. Proving that this Jesus is the Christ: Saul, an expert in the Old Testament, could easily see how Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scriptures.
2. (23-25) Saul’s escape from Damascus.
Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.
a. After many days were past: In Galatians 1:13-18, Paul explained more about what happened during these many days. He described how he went to Arabia for a period of time, and then returned to Damascus. After his return to Damascus, he went to Jerusalem. Paul spent a total of three years in Damascus and Arabia (Galatians 1:18); truly these were many days.
i. In 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, Paul referred to this incident and mentions it happened under Aretas the king. This means that this escape from Damascus happened between A.D. 37 and 39. So, taking into account the three years mentioned in Galatians 1:18, and that this incident happened at the end of those three years, we can surmise that Paul was converted sometime between A.D. 34 and 36.
b. The Jews plotted to kill him: This essentially began the many things he must suffer for My name’s sake the Lord spoke of in Acts 9:16. Saul now was the persecuted instead of the persecutor.
c. But their plot became known to Saul: If Saul now knew what it was to be persecuted for his faith, he also knew the mighty deliverance of God. Saul enjoyed divine protection until his ministry was complete before God.
d. The disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket: Saul indeed knew divine protection in the midst of persecution, but he also learned that God’s deliverance often comes in humble ways. There is nothing triumphant about sneaking out of a city by night hiding in a large basket.
i. “It was the beginning of many escapes for Paul, and sometimes he didn’t quite escape. Sometimes they caught him, imprisoned him, beat him. He did indeed have to suffer many things for Jesus’ sake.” (Boice)
3. (26-30) Saul with the Christians at Jerusalem.
And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.
a. He tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him: It seems strange that Christians in Jerusalem were so suspicious of Saul even three years after his conversion. They perhaps thought that Saul was part of an elaborate and extended plot; they perhaps wondered why he went off by himself for a while in Arabia; or just as likely, they probably were reluctant to embrace such a dramatic conversion without seeing it with their own eyes. Simply, they did not believe that he was a disciple.
i. At this point, some people might turn their back on Jesus Christ. They might say, “I’ve been serving the Lord for three years, preaching Jesus Christ, enduring assassination attempts and death threats. Now you don’t want to accept me as a Christian? This is the love of Jesus? Forget it!”
ii. But Saul had a greater heart of love for Jesus and Jesus’ followers. It no doubt hurt, but he understood that the disciples in Jerusalem remembered the Christians Saul killed and persecuted. If the disciples in Jerusalem lacked a little in love, Saul added a little more love to make up for it.
b. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles: Thank God for people like Ananias and Barnabas, who will welcome people into the family of God with simple friendship.
i. Barnabas simply extended the love of Jesus to Saul, and as Paul would write later, love believes all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
c. He was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out: In Galatians 1:18, Paul wrote that in this first trip to Jerusalem, he stayed with Peter for fifteen days. He also wrote that he never had an audience with all the apostles, seeing only Peter and James, Jesus’ brother.
i. This time with the apostles in Jerusalem was important, because it finally and certainly welcomed Saul into the family of the followers of Jesus. But Paul made a point of the limited nature of his time with the apostles in Jerusalem to show clearly that he did not receive his gospel from the other apostles. Though he was no doubt blessed and benefited from that time, he received his message by direct revelation from Jesus on the road to Damascus. Luke alluded to this when he wrote that Saul, speaking to the apostles, declared to them…what He had spoken to him. The apostles no doubt rejoiced that they and Saul had the exact same message from Jesus.
d. He spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus… but they attempted to kill him: Saul again faced persecution and assassination attempts. This became a recurring pattern in his life.
i. The story of Saul’s conversion begins with him leaving Jerusalem to persecute the followers of Jesus. It ends with him leaving Jerusalem as a persecuted follower of Jesus.
e. They brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus: For his own protection, the Christians in Jerusalem sent him out to Tarsus. Somewhere between 8 and 12 years passed in the life of Saul before he again entered into prominent ministry, being sent out as a missionary from the church at Antioch. At that time, it would also be Barnabas who reached out to Saul, remembering him and loving him.
i. He was Saul of Tarsus, the young, successful, energetic rabbi. Then he was Saul the Persecutor; then Saul the Blind. He became Saul the Convert and then Saul the Preacher. Yet before he became Paul the Apostle, he spent somewhere between 8 and 12 years as Saul the unknown. Those were not wasted years; they were good and necessary years.
ii. Tarsus was one of the great cities of the ancient world, with an excellent harbor and a strategic placement at trade routes. It was especially known as an university city, being one of the three great educational cities of the Mediterranean world. “Strabo speaks of the Tarsian university as even surpassing, in some respects, those of Athens and Alexandria (Geography 14.5.13). It was especially important as a center of Stoic philosophy” (Williams)
4. (31) The health of the churches in the whole region.
Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.
a. The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria: Acts 9 began with a zealous man breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1). But God was more than able to turn this terrible threat into a great blessing. Now Luke shows that God’s work not only continued but it was strong, despite the great opposition that came against it.
b. Galilee: The Book of Acts tells us nothing about the planting of churches in Galilee. We don’t know who started these churches, how they did it, or all the great works of God which took place in these young churches. This reminds us that Acts is only a partial history of God’s work during this period.
c. The churches… had peace: This doesn’t mean that all persecution had stopped; instead, it means that they had peace in the midst of persecution.
i. At the end of Acts 9:31, we reach an important historical crossroads in Acts and the events of the Roman Empire. In A.D. 37, Caiaphas was replaced as high priest, first by Jonathan, then by Theophilus. In the same year, Caligula succeeded Tiberius as Roman Emperor. Caligula was bitterly hostile against the Jews and was assassinated four years later.
d. The churches… were edified: The word edified has the idea of being built up. The churches were growing in numbers and strength.
e. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied: Whenever God’s people are walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, you may expect that they will also see their numbers multiplied.
i. The fear of the Lord…the comfort of the Holy Spirit: Each of these are needed in the Christian walk. At any given moment a disciple of Jesus may more need the fear of the Lord or the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Often, God wants the comfortable to be afflicted (gaining the fear of the Lord) and the afflicted to be comforted (by the comfort of the Holy Spirit).
ii. In the comfort of the Holy Spirit: Pierson points out that the word translated comfort here is essentially the same word translated Helper or Comforter in John 14:16 (paraclesis).
iii. “Is it not already but too evident that the church of our day has little or no conception of the pricelessness of blessing involved in this paraclesis of the Spirit? What if once more this lesson could be learned? What ‘rest’ would the church have from internal dissension and division, from heresy and schism! What edification, ‘being built up’ on the most holy faith! What holy ‘walking in the fear of the Lord,’ what rapid multiplication, and what world-wide evangelization! There is not an evil now cursing or threatening our church life which this ‘comfort of the Holy Ghost’ would not remedy and perhaps remove.” (Pierson)
D. God works miracles through the apostle Peter.
1. (32-35) Peter heals Aeneas at Lydda.
Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” Then he arose immediately. So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
a. Peter went through all parts of the country: The previous pattern of the apostles staying put in Jerusalem and those needing ministry coming from afar to them (as reflected in Acts 5:16) now shifted. Peter went through all parts of the country to do ministry, traveling the 35 miles (55 kilometers) from Jerusalem to Lydda.
i. Lydda is near modern day Lod, the site of Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv.
b. There he found a certain man: Peter found a needy man God wanted to miraculously heal, and Peter found him as he was out ministering to others in the name of Jesus. If we will be like Peter, who went through all parts of the country, then we will also find opportunities for the miraculous power of God.
c. Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you: Peter clearly identified who healed – Jesus the Christ. Peter was only His instrument. Jesus healed with the power of Jesus, but Peter did not heal with the power of Peter. Peter relied solely on the power of Jesus.
i. The words of Peter – “Arise and make your bed” – were perhaps consciously an imitation of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic man in Mark 2:10-12.
d. So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord: The miraculous healing of Aeneas made many people turn to the Lord – presumably, with Peter preaching the gospel to them.
2. (36-38) Dorcas from Joppa dies.
At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them.
a. Named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas: Both the names Dorcas and Tabitha mean “deer.” This woman was a beloved member of the Christian community in Joppa, because she was full of good works and charitable deeds.
i. Luke noted that Tabitha was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. Some people are full of good works and charitable deeds, but they are only full of them in their minds and hearts. They don’t actually do them as Tabitha did. This is why Luke added, which she did.
b. Imploring him not to delay in coming to them: Peter wasn’t in Joppa when Tabitha died. Yet he wasn’t far away, and the Christians in Joppa had heard that God was doing miraculous things through Peter in nearby Lydda. They begged Peter to come, perhaps asking when Dorcas was still alive or had just died.
3. (39-42) Dorcas is raised from the dead.
Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.
a. Peter arose and went with them: When the disciples from Joppa came to Peter in Lydda, they came with the hope that Peter would help her, or at least help the Christian community at that place work through their grief.
i. There is no indication in the Book of Acts that it was common or popularly expected that dead Christians would be resuscitated to life again. This miracle (and a few similar in Acts) is listed just because they were unusual and remarkable.
b. All the widows stood by him weeping: It may very well be that the expectation was that Peter would merely comfort these Christian widows and others in their grief over Dorcas’ death. Yet Peter sensed a specific leading to do just as he had seen Jesus do as recorded in Mark 5:38-43 – he put them all out, in the anticipation that God would do for Tabitha what He did for the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue.
c. Tabitha, arise: Peter seemed to clearly remember what Jesus did in Mark 5:38-43 (or Luke 8:50-56). In that healing, Jesus said, “Talitha, cumi.” Peter said here (in the original language) “Tabitha cumi.” Peter could hear Jesus’ words in his head as he ministered.
i. Peter simply tried to do as Jesus did. Jesus was his leader. He wasn’t trying to lead Jesus anymore, as he did when he told Jesus not to go the way of the cross in Matthew 16:22. Now Peter was letting Jesus lead him.
d. And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up: By all appearances, Tabitha was raised from the dead. She was dead and came back to life. These are remarkable, unusual miracles – yet things that have happened and still do (though one is wise to not gullibly accept every reported instance of such).
i. We should remind ourselves that Dorcas was not resurrected; she was resuscitated to her old life, where she would die again.
ii. The fact that the Lord raised Dorcas, yet Stephen (and later, James in Acts 12:2) remained dead, reflects on God’s unknowable ways. After all, it certainly seemed that Stephen and James were more important to the church than Dorcas. Yet we must always trust God’s greater wisdom and knowledge in all such things.
iii. Dorcas wasn’t raised for her own sake. She would have enjoyed heaven better! She was raised for the sake of her ministry to others, which is the same reason we have passed from death into life (John 5:24).
e. When he had called the saints and widows: Acts 9:32 and 41 mention the saints in Lydda and Joppa. This is the first time Christians are called saints in Acts. When the Bible calls Christians saints, the idea isn’t of a super-perfect people; the idea is of a people who are different. Saints are set apart from the world at large; they are distinctive.
4. (43) Peter stays with Simon, a tanner.
So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.
a. He stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner: This sentence would be somewhat shocking to an observant Jew of that time. According to their understanding of the law, it was strictly forbidden to associate with anyone who routinely worked with dead animals.
i. According to the laws of that time, a tanner had to live at least 75 feet (25 meters) outside a village because of his constant ritual uncleanness.
ii. “The trade of a tanner was held in such supreme contempt that if a girl was betrothed to a tanner without knowing that he followed that calling, the betrothal was void.” (Morgan)
b. He stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner: Because of this, we see Peter was becoming less concerned about Jewish traditions and ceremonial notions than before. This work of God in Peter’s heart laid groundwork for what God would do in Peter in the following chapter.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
- Car dealerships in pueblo west
- One staff medical travel nursing
- Kenmore canister vacuum power head
- Fire in baker city oregon
- Kitchenaid pasta roller parts diagram
- 2013 f150 fuse box location
- Michigan state final four 2019
- Nfl 100 commercial with names
- Toyota dealership league city texas
A Persecutor Converted (Acts 9:1-19)
We are currently in a sermon series in the book of Acts, looking at the experiences of the early church.
Last week you will have heard Chris Knowles preach on the persecution faced by the early church, starting by the execution of Stephen for his faith in Christ.
You may remember that Saul the Pharisee was present at that execution and approved of what was going on. It is clear that Saul was a zealous Jew, and had no time for the new Christian church. He disbelieved their claim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, and denied their claims that Jesus had risen.
As we join the story today, Paul has moved from being a spectator of Stephen’s persecution, to a leading agent of the Jewish authorities. Verse 1 tells us that Saul was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul set out on a 200 mile journey, beyond the borders to Palestine, to persecute the expanding Christian church.
But what followed was arguably the most dramatic conversion in human history. Saul came to Christ in the most spectacular and supernatural way. So much so that we still use the expression “a road to Damascus experience” to describe a dramatic change of allegiance.
Imagine atheist Richard Dawkins suddenly announcing that he had come to believe in God – or an Islamic extremist suddenly professing Christian faith – and you get some idea of the scale of the change that took place in Saul’s heart and mind that day. Saul’s conversion was even more unexpected and surprising than Thursday’s General Election result!
Saul’s experience: A vision, a voice and a choice
Let’s look back at this morning’s passage to remind ourselves what happened to turn Saul’s life around.
It seems that as Saul travelled along that road to Damascus he experienced a vision, a voice and a choice.
The vision Paul experienced was “a light from Heaven”. A light that “flashed around him”. A supernatural light stronger than the sun. A dazzling light that forced him to his knees and blinded his eyes for three days.
Paul also heard a voice. A voice from Heaven that knew his name. “Saul, Saul” it said, “why do you persecute me?” Paul did not know who was speaking to him, and so asked ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
The reply Saul received must have left him speechless. Dumbfounded. Because the voice said: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
This reply must have turned everything Saul believed upside down. Rather that being a false prophet, this heavenly voice showed that Jesus really was God’s Son. And rather that being dead and buried, this voice proved to Saul that Jesus was very much alive!
That voice also meant that the Christians Saul was persecuting were right all along – and Saul was wrong. By hurting and harming the church, the ‘body’ of Christ, Saul had been hurting and harming Jesus himself.
You might have thought that Saul’s mistake would have led to him being condemned by Christ. You might have thought that he would be struck dead by God on that Damascus road. But instead Jesus gave Saul wonderful grace. He offered him the chance, the choice, to follow him.
Through a disciple called Ananias, Jesus offered shell-shocked Saul full forgiveness. And he offered Saul a new mission for life. Christ offered Saul a wonderful outlet for his religious zeal and his sharp intellect.
Rather than being a persecutor of the Christian church, Jesus was inviting Saul to join it. And rather than being an enemy of the Gospel message, Jesus called Saul to proclaim it to the nations. Let me read Jesus’ words in verse 15 today: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles, and their kings and to the people of Israel.” Rather than trying to silence the Gospel message, Saul’s new role in life was to speak of it.
And it’s a role that Saul took to with gusto. After changing his name to Paul, Saul would spend the remaining thirty years of his life travelling thousands of miles telling thousands of people the good news about Jesus. In fact, Paul is still sharing the message of Jesus today, 2,000 years after his death, as people read his letters and epistles in the New Testament. Letters like the book of Romans, which we will be looking at in our sermons next month.
Applications for us
Before I finish, its worth reflecting on what lessons we ourselves can learn from Saul’s conversion.
I should say at the outset that there are some parts of Saul’s experience that are unique and unrepeatable. We should not expect to see lights from heaven in our daily life, nor do many people hear Jesus speak to them audibly today.
But other parts of Saul’s experience are wonderfully relevant to us today.
- For a start, Saul’s experience is a wonderful reminder that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. No one, not even someone as sinful as Saul, is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. Anyone anywhere, anytime can receive God’s forgiveness if they repent and put their faith in Christ. If we hear Jesus speak to us in Scripture, and belive what he says, we can enjoy the same salvation Saul enjoyed. Like Saul, we have done nothing to deserve God’s mercy, it is all a free gift of grace.
- Secondly, Saul’s experience should also remind us about the importance of the church in God’s eyes. Saul was told that when he persecuted Christ’s people he was persecuting Christ himself. Every Christian is part of Christ’s body and enormously precious to him. Those who persecute Christians around the world today (in places like North Korea, Nigeria and the Middle East) will be held accountable to the Lord for their behaviour.
- And lastly, Saul’s experience on the Damascus Road reminds us that Christian conversion should lead to action. Saul responded to his encounter with Christian by joining the church, being baptized and then beginning to tell other people about Jesus. Saul’s example challenges us to be committed to our Christian brothers and sisters here at St. Michael’s. And his example challenges us to be eager to tell our neighbours, friends and family about our faith. We should be as keen as Saul was to tell people about the free forgiveness and eternal life that is on offer by the risen Jesus.
Saul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus turned his life upside down. And, through him, it led to thousands of other people coming to know Jesus as their risen Lord and Saviour. Let’s pray that God will help us to be just as open and excited about our own Christian faith today.